Driving out to Bruxelles with Brad, there was on-going banter about this and that, but as we neared the Pembina Valley, the truck cab became quite. The rolling hills looming in the distance only grew more impressive as we neared town. As two non-climbers, we knew we were in for a long day. Ian promised over 1,000 ft of climbing and 10 percent grades. “Exactly how steep is a 10 percent grade?”—Brad’s truck was already whining and the hill we were on paled in comparison to the one on the horizon.
After a blessing from the local priest, the racing began with the Cat 3s followed by the Cat 4s. We were off! Being my first road race, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but thankfully I recognized most of the faces in my group. Jonny G and Adam were among them; in the name of the challenge those were the ones that I was most concerned with.
After the neutral start out of town the pace wasn’t too bad. After a few weekend s of riding lots of gravel, I felt fairly comfortable at this stage of the race. The group was still mostly together, trying to take advantage of drafts as the road conditions would allow. No major hills yet. All’s good.
Then we happened up on the Knoppenberg (I think that’s what it was called), the first serious hill of the day. The group started to splinter at this point, I think. Prince Dan road away from everyone while the rest of us tried to maintain the pace, but not blow ourselves up either. Dan held up and about 5 of us regrouped, but before long we turned south and faced the Heartbreaker. Short on the heels of the Knoppenberg, the Heartbreaker lived up to its name. This one really got the BPMs up in a hurry. That was pretty much the last the group saw of Dan for the day.
I knew Dan would be the man to beat with all the promised climbing, and that I would never hang on to him. The rest of the circuit held a few smaller climbs, but nothing too daunting. Heartbreaker was followed up by another smaller climb where I managed to gap the others. It took some work to get there, but now I found myself in a pretty good spot.
Looking back over my shoulder at the beginning of lap 2, I could see Carl from BBC. He wasn’t catching me at this point, but I wasn’t dropping him either. I mashed hard and tried to take advantage of my bulk on the downhill parts, hoping to slowing open the gap. Every time I looked over my shoulder he was still there. And then, about a third into the last lap the rollers started. I tried to attack them, but efforts were catching up with me. The legs were on the verge of cramping when I got out of the saddle. I was okay on the flats, but this is the part of the course where the hills start to come in waves, and Knoppeberg and Heartbreaker were yet to be summited.
I caught up to Tristan, who was not having one of his best days, and we rode together ever so briefly before Carl caught on. Crap. The three of us rode together for a bit; it was nice to catch a draft and a chance to get in some water as were about to hit the Knoppenberg. I b-a-r-e-l-y managed to stay with them on that climb. I tried not to let it show how much I was hurting. About two minutes later we turned and started our ascension up the Heartbreaker. Again, the Heartbreaker lived up to its name. Not because of the pounding in my chest, but because Tristan and Carl left me in their dust. I’d be hard pressed to reel them in before the end of the race now.
After recovering from the climb I started to feel better again knowing the rest of the course wasn’t going to hurt nearly as much. I think I was making some time on the two ahead of me, but with only 2 or 3 kms to go, I knew I had run out of time. I pressed on, nonetheless—there was a certain black-clad rider with a bright blue helmet within eye-shot and I certainly wasn’t going to let him pass me. Not today, anyway…points are on the line.
Good times and post-exercise beverages were had in the community hall afterward. Racers were treated to filling portions of home-cooked food and entertained with traditional Belgian dancing. An awesome end to the day.
It was a hard race, not to dissimilar from Reach the Beach in terms of effort (half the distance for us Cat 4ers, but just as tiring) with lots of grinding to wear you down. I think a return trip to the beautiful country-side of Bruxelles might be in order to prepare of the mountain passes of July.